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9 June 2020

Weapons of Victory. Red Army Firearms

The experience of the First World War and the Civil War demonstrated that the very existence of the Soviet depended on taking urgent measures to equip the Red Army with the latest military equipment. Among various types of weaponry, automatic weapons were prioritized. The War broke out on 22 June 1941. It turned out the right choices have been made all along...

Joint project by the Roscongress Foundation and the «KALASHNIKOV», magazine is dedicated to the history of Red Army’s rearmament, its growing force and the glory of Russian weapons.

The Weapons of Victory series will cover firearms that accompanied the Soviet Army through the Great Patriotic War all the way to raising the Victory Banner over Reichstag in Berlin.

Part 1

By Yuriy Ponomarev, scientific editor of the KALASHNIKOV magazine.

Back during the difficult years of the Civil War and the ensuing economic and production devastation, funds were raised to design new automatic weapons systems and to create appropriate conditions for production thereof.

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For this purpose, on the basis of the ‘Special Workshop’ in the town of Kovrov, first Weapons Design Bureau in the country was created. For years it was headed by a wonderful Soviet gunsmith Vasiliy Degtyarev, and the organization and adjustment of the workflow was overseen by the creator of the world’s first automatic rifle Vladimir Fyodorov.

The Design Bureau contributed greatly to the constructive development of new weapons. Additionally, it prepared the design professionals who, in many ways surpassed, their teachers (including the likes of Shpagin, Simonov, Goryunov, etc.).

Traditionally, the Tula design school remained strong, represented by such engineers as Korovin, Tokarev, Rukavishnikov, Vladimirov, and others. Shooting and tactical school aptly titled ‘Shot’ played an important role in training the troops. The school was headed by an outstanding theoretician and practitioner of shooting Nikolai Filatov, who created fundamental works on the usage of rifles and machine guns.

The creation of special departments dedicated to firearms and machine gun armament at the Artillery and Air Force Academies, Tula and Leningrad Mechanical Institutes during the pre-war five years was of great importance in training of designers and researchers. Thanks to the works of Blagonravov, Bravin, Pugachev, Mamontov the design of weapons acquired a much needed scientific foundation.

7.62 mm revolver Nagan

As a result of the consolidation of intellectual potential, combat experience and implementation of the country’s industrialization plan, the development of the Red Army’s armament took place in two independent directions. The first, e.g. the small firearms, was almost completed by 1930. At that time the Red Army began re-equipping with modernized infantry weapons (7.62 mm revolver Nagan, 7.62 mm, machine gun of 1891/30 and 7.62 mm machine gun Maxim, and later carbine of 1938), which could boast improved performance and more advanced technological characteristics over its predecessors. The armament process played an important role for the economy of the country during the pre-war years.

7.62 mm machine gun Maxim designed in 1910–1930 and modernized during the war

The final stages of this work have not resumed until the beginning of the War. The second direction of development implied the creation of new weapons that would be unique not only in domestic, but in the world armament practice. The government chose a truly scientific, systematic approach to solving the problem (which is so rare nowadays): an entire weapon system was commissioned, consisting of a pistol, submachine gun, self-loading rifle, anti-tank rifle, manual, machine gun and large-caliber machine guns, rifle grenade launcher and 50 mm mortar. It was to be developed, designed according to the general tactical requirements of the Infantry Combat Statute (which regulated shooting coverage, rate of fire, aiming range, shooting modes, and maneuverability) ready for operation in various types of combat, backed up by the requirements for reliability, safety, maintenance and repair.

Red Army soldier with a prewar Degtyaryov submachine gun

The first result was obtained in 1927. It was the first domestically produced hand machine gun DP (or ‘Degtyarev Pekhota’) adopted to replace worn out foreign machine hand guns of all kinds, inherited from the First World War.

The machine gun was warmly received by the troops and praised for its fire power, simplicity of construction and maintenance. In 1928 its aviation turret version dubbed DA came into service, and in 1929 the DT or the tank version was added. However, no one had any illusions about the survivability of the tanks: the DT machine gun was delivered in the infantry version (bipod with a scope).

The Degtyaryov DP (DP-27) manual machine gun in the battle of Stalingrad in summer 1942.

The overall machine gun layout and design of the bolt locking unit proved so successful that DP became the basis for the development of the new machine gun (DS-39), and large-caliber (DShK 938), as well as manual machine gun RPD-44.

DS-39 machine gun

Additionally, Degtyarev achieved incredible results in the development of submachine guns. In 1934 he adopted the PPD-34, which underwent two successive upgrades in 1938 and 1940, but still approached the cost of a manual machine gun.

The competition for a self-loading pistol culminated with the adoption of the 7.62 mm pistol in 1930 (short name TT or ‘Tulsky Tokarev’). However, three years later the pistol underwent modernization to become simpler and cheaper, having adopted a well-known look and name in 1933.

7.62 mm TT pistol, 1933

Taking the Browning scheme of automatics as a basis, Tokarev created his original design, the viability of which is proven by time and experience of combat use in dozens of wars and local conflicts. The development of the semi-automatic rifle was a bit more complicated. At first Simonov was in the lead, as political desire to have the most progressive main infantry weapon eclipsed common sense. As a result, a relatively raw system was adopted in 1936 under the short name AVS-36. Experience in production and operation exposed some serious drawbacks in the model, which would have required a radical overhaul of the rifle in terms of durability and reliability, and inevitably increased its weight.

These conditions have put Tokarev with his SVT-38 in the lead. His design was also not devoid of drawbacks, yet not of constructive, but rather of technological kind, namely, in mass production was rather expensive. In 1940 the rifle was modernized, it became lighter and more reliable.

A group of scouts with SVT-40. North-Western Front, 1941.

Thus, the USSR was the first state in the world to have a mass-produced self-loading rifle. Achievement was proudly demonstrated to the world by equipping the honor guards with self-loading guns. The SVT served as a parade weapon until it was replaced by Simonov’s SKS.

Part 2

By Yuriy Ponomarev, scientific editor of the KALASHNIKOV magazine.

Knowledge about combat properties of new and modernized weapons acquired in the harsh conditions during Lake Hasan and Khalkhin-Gol operations, as well as in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-40, provided invaluable insight about the usage of these weapons in reality (often by poorly trained personnel). This knowledge became the foundation for new testing methods.

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After all, the apparent rush to adopt new weapons was indeed caused by external threats, but also by the lack of experience in testing and interpreting results (almost everything was done for the first time), plus the weakness of both the methodological and logistical bases for the tests. Underestimating the combat effectiveness of submachine guns was an expensive lesson for Soviet troops in the Finnish war. Subsequently, it was not possible to significantly increase their production in the shortest possible time due to the great laboriousness and cost.

7.62-mm submachine gun, 1940. (PPD-40) with simplified two-position wind-gauge, wartime production. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

This gap was filled in record time: within nine months after the end of the Finnish campaign, including the time of the announcement of the competition, development and testing, in December 1940 Georgy Shpagin’s 7.62 mm submachine gun(abbreviated as PPSh) was adopted for service.

7.62-mm submachine gun, 1941. (PPSh-41) with simplified two-position full bore and two-row sector magazine with 35 rounds capacity. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

«Papasha» or daddy, as soldiers affectionately called it, while retaining all the positive qualities of PPD, was notable for its enviable technology achieved through the use of cold stamping during the manufacturing of its basic parts. It was the timely appearance of this, the most mass-produced submachine gun of the Second World War, that became a pledge and one of the symbols of the future Victory.

7.62-mm submachine gun, 1941. (PPSh-41) with cartridge drum. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev.

By 22 June 1941, the Red Army had one of the most advanced small arms systems in the world. Obviously, the army did not receive all weapons in sufficient quantities, but the failures during the early stages of the Great Patriotic War were not due to the poor equipment. The losses were caused by the miscalculations of the country’s leadership and army command, since both Germany and its allies used obsolete weapons from World War I in significant quantities. Moreover, a huge number of the latest Soviet weapons were taken as trophies on the battlefield, and immediately put into production by the enemy.

SVT rifles, submachine guns and submachine guns, DP and DShK machine guns were especially popular in the German Army. Trophy SVT could be sold for 400 Reichsmarks, which was almost two months’ salary of the company commander.

7.62mm Tokarev self-loading rifle (SVT-40) with bladed bayonet. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

With German pedantry, as well as with Finnish prudence and care, even DS-39 machine guns worked smoothly, while Soviet production of DS was curtailed right at the start of the war. The dramatic fate of this machine gun is still poorly understood and requires a separate narrative.

The beginning of the Great Patriotic War convincingly showed that the trends of small arms development originating in the 20s provided for the most incredible of circumstances when defeating the external threats (the official doctrine demanded «small blood-cost on a foreign territory»). No one could even imagine that in a month or two after the enemy invasion the main industrial areas of the country would be occupied, and the army would lose the lion’s share of the most modern weapons concentrated in the border districts.

That’s when the results of armament modernization works, carried out during the pre-war period (with an additional acceleration after its start) were truly appreciated. This process significantly reduced the material and labor intensity of manufacturing, while eventually meeting the needs of the army.

During first battles involving mass numbers of tanks near the borders of the country, the semi-forgotten issue of developing an anti-tank rifle became relevant again. The pre-war developments in this area (including the development of 14.5mm cartridge) allowed Degtyaryov and Simonov accomplish an incredible feat: in almost in a month, both domestic antitank shotgun PTRD (single shot with automatic unlocking and opening the bolt) and self-loading PTRS become available.

14.5 mm anti-tank guns: Degtyaryova (PTRD) on the left, Simonova (PTRS) on the right. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

The first experience of PTRD combat use took place on 16 November 1941, in the heat of the Battle of Moscow. First combat operations showed high efficiency, and from then on PTRDs became an indispensable component of the anti-tank defense with entire companies of armored personnel formed to strengthen them. Even after the appearance of heavy enemy tanks in 1943, which the PTRD could no longer fight efficiently, this class of weapons did go obsolete and was actively used until the end of the war to combat the firing points, as well as light and unarmored equipment.

14.5 mm Degtyarev anti-tank guns (PTRD)

Despite the country’s dire economic situation, improving and developing new weapons continued throughout the war. For instance, the need for a light and compact gun to arm scouts, sappers, crews of combat vehicles and brigades of artillery guns was identified during the first offensive operations of the Red Army. Alexey Sudayev solved this difficult task perfectly.

His PPS-42 successfully passed military tests in the harsh conditions of the wooded and swampy area of the Leningrad front and with some modifications was put into mass production under the name «7.62 mm submachine gun 1943» (abbreviated to «PPS-43»).

7.62-mm submachine gun 1943. (PPS-43) with two-row sector magazine with capacity of 30 rounds. Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

The fighting qualities of the PPS have amazed even modern weapons designers. In 2000, when Baksanets was testing their submachine gun samples, seeing the result of PPS firing, one of the engineers whispered «Everything’s already been accomplished before us...»

In general, the «turning point» of 1943 was the birthplace of the «offensive» weapons, lighter and more maneuverable, more responsive to the requirements of the offensive battle.

7.62-mm Goryunov’s machine gun (SG-43). Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

In addition to the PPS, Goryunov’s machine gun (SG-43) was adopted for service and the 7.62 mm carbine underwent military trials. The following year it was renamed to ‘1944’ and replaced the ‘1891/30’ rifle.

7.62 mm carbine 1944, view from the right, folded bayonet in travelling position (folded). Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

In 1944 Degtyaryov, after analyzing the shortcomings identified in the course of combat operations, upgraded the manual machine gun DP, which was named DPM.

7.62 mm upgraded Degtyaryov manual machine gun (DPM). Photo by Mikhail Degtyarev, from the collection of the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (MHMAESC)

In addition, the foundations of the postwar weapons system were laid right in the midst of the war: Elizarov and Simin worked on the «intermediate» cartridge, which was called the 7.62-mm cartridge, dating back to 1943, while the venerable gunsmiths such as Degtyaryov, Simonov, Sudayev, and others began working on samples for it. In the same 1943, then unknown engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov started professionally designing weapons.

Summing up this brief pre-war and war-times small arms development review, it is necessary to highlight the invaluable contribution of domestic gunsmiths to the victory over fascist Germany. Almost all the above-mentioned weapons, created by their tireless labor, provided security in many a country for years to come...

Part 3

By Ruslan Chumak, member of the KALASHNIKOV editing board, chief curator at MHMAESC.

Fusil Gras in the Great Patriotic War

Guns... Harmless and covered in lumps of red rust, they sit in the expositions of large and small museums of the country. Explosive rusted rifle barrels, shrapnel-pierced hoods of «fossil» maxim machine guns, bayonets... Modest and sad, they look at the visitors, calling to remember the war and their unknown long-gone owners, but people usually pass by these humble exhibits

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A rifle barrel like that can be found in the War Veterans’ Fame Room of the Tula region. However, it does not belong to domestically produced rifles. Rather, it is part of French single shot rifle of Gras system of 1874. Where did it come from? How did the old «Frenchwoman» ever find herself in our country? It was established that the barrel of the Gras rifle was found at the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War in the vicinity of Tula by one of the city residents. The question arises: why were Russian fighters armed with such outdated weapons?

Turns out these rifles made it to Russia during World War I. As it is widely known, that war started poorly for the Russian army. By the beginning of 1915, the available stocks of weapons were exhausted, and then the Russian military department «went around the world begging for donations». Delegations went to different countries with the task to find and buy rifles. Summing up those missions: they took everything they were given, but understandably, they have been handed all sorts of unwanted things.

Among others, single shot rifles of Gras system designed in 1874 have been purchased in France in the amount of 480,000 pieces.

Of all the weapons provided by allies, French Fusil Gras were the most outdated of all. This rifle roughly matched the Russian 4,2-line Berdan rifle No. 2 of 1870, but, unlike the latter, it had a cartridge with smokeless powder and a bullet in brass shell.

1874 Fusil Gras, on display in MHMAESC in St. Petersburg

The Gras rifles, for the most part, did not make it to the front and were redirected to the rear to replace the Russian rifles sent to the front. But since there were not so many rear units in the Russian army, most of the rifles stayed stored in warehouses.

After the end of the Civil War all the foreign weapons in good condition were collected at the artillery warehouses, the whole stock of ammunition for it was concentrated in Yaroslavl at the warehouse # 71. It seems that there was no objective need in this storage: by the beginning of the Great Patriotic War the Red Army was equipped with a sufficient amount of modern small arms (as of 22 June 1941 available rifles and carbines counted at 7743589 pieces). However, the experience of the First World War and the Civil War required to preserve every single weapon, since the country paid such a hefty price for it.

This approach was proven right at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. The course of hostilities went on in such a way that most of the available small arms and their stocks were lost along with the fighters who were either killed in battle or captured, destroyed in retreat or taken by the enemy in warehouses. The tragedy of World War I was repeated once again: the losses of weapons were enormous. According to the data classified until 1992, the average monthly losses of small arms for the first six months of the war reached 925,000 rifles and 31,600 machine guns per month.

Naturally, all possible measures have been taken to eliminate the resulting weapons shortage. In August 1941 the production plan of SVT-40 rifles at Tula Arms Works was increased to 100,000 pieces per month, which was 5.6 times more than that in the first days of the war. At the cost of great effort, 1,285,993 rifles and carbines, 31,284 hand-held rifles, and 8,248 machine guns were produced from early July to late November 1941 under the conditions of industrial evacuation. But no matter how hard the domestic armaments industry tried to cover the losses with the utmost forcefulness of production, it failed to do so to the full extent. The weapons were sufficient only for 30% of the personnel of the formed parts and compounds.

Extraordinary measures were taken then to cover the lack of small arms. The NPO Directive No. Org/2/538994 of 11 July 1941 prescribed: «...to seize the weapons in the rear units and district institutions, workshops, repair bases, sanitary facilities, surplus weapons of local shooting troops (in excess of two shifts), surplus weapons of military educational institutions, as well as weapons available to the permanent staff of military schools, except for the staff of shooting units, to which only revolvers should be left.

In addition, 50 percent of the standard small arms and machine guns available in the following spare parts are to be withdrawn from: air defence and EMPLO units, communications, demining, road maintenance, tank, vehicle, motorcycle and artillery regiments, as well as in the headquarters of the spare brigades and county headquarters. In addition, fully withdraw the combat and training weapons available at Osoaviahim.» As a result of the implementation of the directive, only 133,710 training rifles were withdrawn from the Osoaviahim organizations. The seized training rifles were sorted out, suitable for combat readiness have been singled out and repaired at the military facilities. The combat-tripped training weapons were used to provide for the formed units and military schools.

But even this improvisation hasn’t helped much. It was then, in the hardest days of October-November 1941, when the enemy came to Moscow, in order to arm the local militia and fighter squads, as well as for the exchange of domestic weapons from the troops of the NKVD and the NKPS, last resort measures had to be implemented. They extracted the last reserve of small arms: old foreign rifles, pistols and machine guns of World War I, about 40,000 rifles in total.

Part of this stock was given to the Tula Workers’ Regiment, which received Lewis machine guns and Lebel system rifles. Some fighters were armed with rifles of obviously outdated systems, including single-shot systems of Gras 1874. All foreign weapon systems had very few bullets (only five pieces for each Lebel rifle), many rifles had no bayonets.

Tula Workers’ Regiment armed with foreign weapons

Obviously, foreign rifles did not play any military role in October—November 1941 operations — and how could they? Their role was a morale booster one: people were given weapons in their hands and they could, at least during a short training, feel like soldiers. This meant a lot, since many fighters did not have any weapons at all, and being unarmed in a battle is worse than being naked. The old rifles were still suitable for policing the city, guard duty and fighting subversives. But to get in the way of motorized divisions with a single-round rifle from the Shipka and Pleven times... For this, you need to love your homeland very much and have great courage! Immediately before joining the Tula Worker Regiment a part of this weapon «museum» managed to be replaced with domestic rifles, but not everything. And they did manage to stop the Germans! Anyway, the enemy did not take Tula.

They say the only thing history teaches is that it teaches nothing. However, it would be desirable that those on whom the future of our army depends now, would not forget the incessant conclusion given in the book by the famous artillery historian Barsoukov’s book entitled ‘Artillery of the Russian Army’: «...the stocks of rifles, contained in peacetime, proved to be insufficient even in such militarized states as Germany... therefore no State, though not taking part in the war, should be allowed to decide to sell or destroy the stocks of its even old weapons ...».

Part 4

By Michael Heidler

PPSh-41 through the eyes of the losing side
German expert's opinion on the legendary submachine gun of the Great Patriotic War

Less than five months after the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR started mass producing PPSh-41 submachine gun. The weapon was eventually manufactured in excess of 5,000,000 copies and undoubtedly became the most famous Soviet submachine gun during the war.

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The creator of the PPSh Georgy Shpagin was born in 1897 in a peasant family in the village of Klushnikovo. From 1916 to 1920 he served as a gunsmith in the infantry regiment, and after demobilization he joined the pilot workshop of the Design Machine-gun Bureau at the Kovrov Plant. This step defined his future, as he was lucky to work under the supervision of a famous designer-gunsmith Vasily Degtyaryov.

Shpagin worked on machine guns designs. He developed a ball system for mounting a 6.5 mm Fyodorov-Shpagin paired manual machine gun system on a tank, improved the existing machine guns and, among other things, designed a belt feeder for a large-calibre 12.7 mm Degtyarev machine gun with a cartridge feed from a disk magazine, which was then renamed DShK model 1938. (Degtyaryov-Shpagin). At the same time, he was engaged in design of submachine gun.

The designer of the Soviet PPSh-41 submachine gun Georgy Shpagin (1897–1952).

The development of submachine guns in the Soviet Union began in the mid 1920s, but due to the conservative views of the generals it was rather sluggish. In early 1939, after less than 5,000 submachine guns were manufactured, the production of the 1934 Degtyaryov submachine guns, which started in 1935, was stopped and all the manufactured submachine guns were stored in the warehouses. The experience of the Soviet-Finnish Winter War was a wakeup call for the generals who recognized the need for such weapons and in 1940 it was decided to start production of improved Degtyaryev submachine guns models 1934/38 and 1940.

PPD submachine guns were very popular in the army, primarily because of the large stock of ammunition in the drum magazine, which holds 71 rounds. However, in spite of numerous design changes, Degtyarov’s submachine guns required a lot of material resources and time in production, and production could not cover the ever-increasing demand.

Although the PPD models were reliable and also very popular with the troops, they were complex and also expensive to produce.

26 August 1940 was Shpagin’s real breakthrough moment: he was able to present a prototype of his newly designed submachine gun to the Artillery Committee of the Main Artillery Directorate. In the design, he summarized the experience of the Finnish war and consciously focused on the simplest possible production solutions.

After numerous prototype trials, in November 1940 extensive comparative firing of the newly developed weapon took place: 25 Shpagin submachine guns against 15 submachine guns of Boris Shpitalny, as well as several of Degtyarev already adopted models.

Despite the fact that Shpitalny’s weapon was able to show lower dispersion and higher initial velocity of the bullet, Shpagin’s weapon seduced by how easy it was to handle, its lighter weight of 3.5 kg, and technological advantages in manufacturing. Probably the latter was crucial at the time, as the manufacturing time of the 5.5 hours for the Shpagin submachine gun was only half of the time it took to manufacture one PPD-40 submachine gun.

On 21 December 1940 Shpagin’s design was adopted by the Red Army as a new standard submachine gun under the official designation «7.62 mm Shpagin’s submachine gun 1941».

Early model PPSh-41 with a sector sights with a range of 50 to 500 m and an unprotected foresight. Later versions of the PPSh-41 had flip-up sight at ranges of 100 and 200 m.

The small town of Zagorsk, located just a few hours away by car from Moscow, was chosen as the location for the manufacturing site. There, in October 1941, just a few months after the German invasion, mass production of the submachine gun began. Soon it appeared that the town could be conquered in the foreseeable future and an urgent evacuation to the village of Vyatskie Polyany followed.

The easy to assemble PPSh-41 submachine gun quickly began to be manufactured in large quantities, and thus, despite the evacuation of production facility, more than 92,000 pieces were delivered by the end of 1941 alone. The following year, production increased to almost 1,500,000, and by the end of the war the total number of manufactured copies reached the level of 5,000,000.

Production of submachine guns PPSh-41 in Vyatka Polyana during the war

The submachine gun is operated by a free-floating bolt, which is located in the rear position on the sear, and its recoil is slowed down by the buffer. Interchangeable bolt carrier is firmly secured to the bolt and its pistol side protrudes out of the bolt face. Firing mode is selectable by means of the slider located right in front of the trigger. If it is moved backwards, it provides single firing mode, while if it is moved forward, it is possible to shoot in a continuous line of fire. The weapon lies well in the hand despite the high firing rate of almost 1000 shots per minute. The front, beveled part of the barrel housing, acts as a compensator. The trigger mechanism has no warning. The safety is provided by the simple slide on the top of the trigger handle, both in the forward and in the forward position of the bolt.

The submachine gun can be fed from a 71-round drum magazine or from a later developed 35-round box magazine. Although drum magazines were popular due to their capacity, they had the disadvantage that they were rather slow to reload in combat. By the way, they were not interchangeable with RPD-40 magazines.

Soviet 7.62×25 PPSh-41 submachine gun with 71 rounds drum magazine and box magazine with 35 rounds capacity, lying under it.

Sighting was achieved through the flip-up sight at 100 and 200 m, and in the case of early-release submachine guns through the sector-shaped sight with settings from 50 to 500 m. Various design enhancements were made during the production process: the front sight, which was uncovered at first, was riveted from a strip of sheet steel, the barrel was chrome plated, and the bolt buffer was made from less expensive material. Cleaning accessories were placed in the PPSh-41 buttstock cavity.

The buttstock includes a removable skimmer, a screwdriver and a cleaning cord. The oil can with two compartments is carried in the pouch.

The disassembly is very simple: you have to press the latch at the rear end of the receiver and, by pressing the hood above the muzzle, turn the receiver. Then pull the bolt back slightly and pull it upward, together with the return spring and the buffer.

Complete disassembly of PPSh-41 submachine gun with drum magazine. It took only 5.5 hours to manufacture one gun.

However, the simple design also had hidden flaws: the most important of them was shortage of reliable protection. Drum stores often could not bear the load either. The work of the internal mechanism could by easily disrupted by dents.

The only fuse consists of an engine on the handlebar

Unlike the Western powers involved in the war, only the Soviet Union had submachine guns turn into the main infantry weapon. Wehrmacht felt that pain quite acutely. The German MP40 submachine gun could have been equally good, but with its 32-round magazine it was still inferior to the PPSh-41, equipped with a 71-round drum magazine.

Group photo with PPSh-41 and PPSh-3 submachine guns

The rest was completed by a large number of Red Army soldiers armed with submachine guns. Accordingly, trophy PPSh-41, which in the Wehrmacht was designated as MP 717®, were popular and very rarely transferred to the collection sites. There were even attempts to convert the PPSh-41 submachine gun into 9×19 cartridge. This required a new barrel and a sheet steel adapter for the receiving window of the magazine, to be able to attach the box magazine from MP40.

Most PPSh-41s of the later production period are equipped with a flip- sight as well as a protected sight.

In February 1942 Shpagin presented to the Artillery Committee a version of his submachine gun, specially modified for tank crews and paratroopers: its buttstock could now detach. However, the advantage was negated by unreliable fastening and increased weight. The weapon was rejected. There had to be another modification.

Shpagin presented the result in May of the same year: the PPSh-42 submachine gun. Its main feature is rectangular, sheet steel receiver, complemented by detachable wooden buttstock or metal folding shoulder rest. Simplified trigger mechanism allowed only continuous shooting, otherwise the interior of the weapon was the same as that of the PPSh-41 submachine gun.

The fuse consists of a long dust cover on the side with cut-outs for the trigger handle. If the cover closes the slot in the box, it locks the handle in one of the notches, depending on its position. Despite the fact that the PPSh-42 submachine gun made a good impression during the tests carried out from 30 May to 2 June, it won only the second place. Alexey Sudayev’s design won. His PPS-42 submachine gun was also easy to manufacture and had less dispersion when fired. For the sake of greater confidence, the military trials of the small series of 250 PPSh-42 submachine guns were conducted, but the decision was not changed.

The 1942 model, which Spagin improved, was made for military tests in the amount of only 250 pieces.

As an experiment, the PPSh-41 submachine gun was even used as an airplane weapon: in 1944 the Tupolev Design Bureau used submachine guns to fire on ground targets. Therefore, several bombers of Tu-2Sh type received a platform with 88 submachine guns installed in the bomb compartment. The submachine guns were pointed down at a 45˚angle, each equipped with a regular drum magazine for ammunition and could only fire simultaneously. But it turned out that the ammunition stock of 71 rounds each was too small, and reloading in flight was not practical, so the project was closed.

Battery of 88 PPSh-41 submachine guns on the drop-down platform in the Tu-2 bomb bay.

After the war, Shpagin experimented with curved barrels to better protect the tank from the attacking infantry. Spagin also curved the barrel together with the casing by 30˚. Otherwise, the design of the weapon remained the same, even the sights remained intact. However, the tests were clearly unsatisfactory, as the initial velocity of the bullet dropped drastically and the large dispersion at ranges of up to 50 m led to the termination of the work.

The Shpagin’s endeavours were highly appreciated. For the submachine gun and other various developments such as the signal pistol, he was awarded numerous high awards: the title Hero of Socialist Labor, Stalin Prize of the second degree, three Orders of Lenin, second degree Order of Suvorov and the Order of the Red Banner.

After the war, due to serious health problems Shpagin had to abandon his professional activities, yet he spent the rest of his life in Vyatskie Polyany. There on 6 February 1952 he died at the age of 56. He was put to rest at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Production of PPSh-41 submachine guns in Russia ended soon after the war, and since December 1959 Vyatskie Polyany assembly line started the assembly of a new weapon: Mikhail Kalashnikov’s machine gun RPK.

In other countries of the socialist camp, copies of PPSh-41 remained in production for a long time. In 1950, China began its own production of a copy called Model 50, Poland began production in 1952, and North Korea only in 1955.

In Yugoslavia, the design was extensively reworked, so the weapon made at the Zavodi Crvena Zastava factory in Kragujevac had only some external similarity with its prototype Model 49. The receiver, for example, was no longer hinged, but had to be unscrewed from the rear to disassemble it. The barrel cover became cylindrical and had many small holes for cooling. The box magazines, however, remained interchangeable.

Zastava M49 submachine gun.

In slightly modified form with milled parts, PPSh-41 was copied by Croatians and since 1991 it was produced as a 9×19 Šokac submachine gun during the war in Yugoslavia.

To be continued...

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